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Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9
Musicianship 9.5
Lyrics 6.75
Production 6.75
Creativity 5
Lasting Value 5.75
Reviewer Tilt 7.25
Final Verdict: 71%
Member Ratings
Vocals 8.32
Musicianship 8
Lyrics 7.54
Production 7.82
Creativity 7.25
Lasting Value 7.68
Reviewer Tilt 7.86
Average: 78%
Inside AP.net

Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

Reviewed by: Chris Fallon (01/25/11)
Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: January 18, 2011


Listening to Social Distortion's seventh full-length album is a little like watching your favorite major-league slugger struggle at the plate in what should have been his best last at-bat ever. All your life, you've admired from afar and hung the posters on your wall. Yet here they are, older with large gaps between productive seasons, and you're feeling a little letdown by how, well, sluggish this has all amounted to. Nostalgia lurks, there's still some talent in that bat and glimpses of divinity come & go... but alas, it all leaves you asking questions; searching for answers.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is a slight departure from Social D's previous few albums, many of which (as any fan will note) take much too long to arrive in our ear canals. It's been seven years since we last saw Mike Ness and company release a proper album, and for their first on Epitaph, it's a concoction of trademark style, signature tunes and a toned-down version of the Mike Ness we all know and love. After nearly 30 years of playing rockabilly punk rock & blues, it's too easy to suggest the band ever phones anything in. Full of heart and soul, it's clear the band is putting in a daily grind and continue to impress in terms of ability & energy - it simply lacks the hooks, the feeling and everything we've previously seen in stellar fashion from a legendary band.

Hard Times is less Clash and more Black Crowes; less Cash and more Hank Williams (who earns a respectable cover on "Alive and Forsaken"). Ness isn't as much 'true grit' as he is content and carrying less weight on his tattooed chest. For a veteran songwriter to turn over a new leaf after 30 years in the punk rock business, it can be rather jarring. For as many restless nights he's had in the past, he appears to be getting more sleep than ever - which saves up all the rock n' roll "come alive" theatrics. It just doesn't show up as much as it promises. The effort in Ness' voice shows (compare and contrast with earlier efforts), but try as he might, not much of the supposed evolution shows up.

"Bakersfield" is a tour de force of reckless abandon that gets by on charm alone, but ultimately lacks in genuinely waxing nostalgic. "California (Hustle and Flow)" speaks up as the better "home sweet home" love letter, but "Machine Gun Blues" takes away some of the nice sentiment, instead picturing a surreal world of big cars, tough guys and scantily-clad dames (as nice as that all sounds). The production is also tepid and doesn't particularly cater to the fast-paced tracks. The slower, country-influenced numbers benefit a great deal from the clean and layered value, but it takes the skin off the grittier material. In many ways, the upbeat cuts feel as if they're trying to keep pace with the younger generation influenced by Ness' own signature style. As the record moves along, it takes on its own identity as a Social Distortion album, yet much of the last half of the record hobbles its way to the finish line. Their faith unshaken, don't expect to find the band giving up or showing any true signs of weakness. We just know the outcome already.

"Still Alive" reminds listeners that Ness' recently-discovered euphoria wasn't an overnight epiphany and ends things on a pleasant note, yet all the tough-as-nails talk and "crawling out of the dark and into the light" poetics clash and propell the overall message into an odd combination of moody tones. Ness wants to present us with a tale that can play alongside the hardships & pain, but also segue into finding optimism & hope. A wonderful idea indeed, but one that falls short of its lofty goal. The instrumental opener gives off the vibe that we're in for a wild ride, one that begins with an introduction to punk rock with smiles, only to veer off into a restless rock and roll playground with plenty of toys, but too many wet paint signs.

The posters are still hung up. The cards are still in your sock drawer. At the end of the day, you remember why you keep going back to them, losing yourself in the memories and still pining for new ones to emerge. But hell, you aren't here to get lost in well-worn cliches. You don't watch your favorite slugger belt a home run or your favorite pitcher throw serious heat because you enjoy seeing the same old crap again & again - you keep watching them because of how they do it. Even if it isn't as fresh.

Maybe next time, the gap between the return to glory will be a shorter wait for even longer prosperity.

Recommended if You LikeThe Clash meet the Black Crowes; the Gaslight Anthem doing Rolling Stones; Johnny Cash together with Hank Williams, amps plugged in
Choice Cuts"Still Alive," "California (Hustle and Flow)" and "Alive and Forsaken"


Online VitalsOfficial Site | Official Myspace | Official Facebook | Official Twitter
PurchaseAmazon MP3 | iTunes
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 24
06:13 AM on 01/25/11
#2
prefix-core
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Great review! And I agree with the sentiments here--not a bad record, just not quite the "home run" I was hoping for. It's more of a double. Maybe they can steal third with a few more spins but uh yeah...

Should've taken that "True Grit" reference one step further and said it was "Less True Grit and more Wild Wild West starring Will Smith." Just sayin'.
06:17 AM on 01/25/11
#3
bdonne07
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Seems to me that a 71 is a fairly solid score, but the text would indicate you didn't like this album nearly that much. I feel like based on your review, you would have given the album a 41 or so. Thoughts?

My favorite track is Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.
06:34 AM on 01/25/11
#4
heyguys123
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you crazy. this shit is fantastic.
07:13 AM on 01/25/11
#5
boscorelli
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you crazy. this shit is fantastic.
agreed. never liked the band until i heard this album, and i cannot get enough of it.
08:42 AM on 01/25/11
#6
Keele
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Yeah, I'm not sure which record you were listening too. I like the reflective nature of the album. You have to consider that Social D's fan base has grown up along with him/them. I would rather hear a musician write music that matters to them than trying to fake a punk angst he felt 20 years ago.

This album has Ness signature guitar sound from the first few notes on. His voice is still as solid and classically gritty as well. I could imagine old classic like 'Sometimes I Do" would feel right at home on this record.
08:45 AM on 01/25/11
#7
PunkRawkStitch
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Album of the year for me!
09:04 AM on 01/25/11
#8
Logan95
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Unfortunately, i can't disagree with this review. The album drags in the middle and the lyrics are incredibly cheesy at times. Although, i think Diamond in the Rough is one of the best songs they've ever written.
09:49 AM on 01/25/11
#9
Jason Tate
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I dig this album more than I thought I would. With the departure between albums - I think it makes less sense to compare it to past work, and instead just let it live on its own. On it's own, it holds up, and I like listening to it.
10:00 AM on 01/25/11
prefix-core
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Yeah, I'm not sure which record you were listening too. I like the reflective nature of the album. You have to consider that Social D's fan base has grown up along with him/them. I would rather hear a musician write music that matters to them than trying to fake a punk angst he felt 20 years ago.

This album has Ness signature guitar sound from the first few notes on. His voice is still as solid and classically gritty as well. I could imagine old classic like 'Sometimes I Do" would feel right at home on this record.

I don't think he's slagging Ness for writing music that matters to him at this particular point in his life -- I think it just didn't connect with Chris/the reviewer the way other Social D records had in the past...

Personally, I dig the record from a "pop music" perspective in that it's shiny, the songs are well-written and all that. It just doesn't pack the same "oomph" that the rest of their catalog does. And that's partially because it's a relatively happy record. It's hard to sound "urgent" when you're content. Which is no fault of Ness' -- good on him for writing happy songs finally! Haha.

It doesn't mean the songs aren't well-written, but it does impact the way some listeners are going to connect with the record.
10:20 AM on 01/25/11
The Hex Bombs
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I don't think he's slagging Ness for writing music that matters to him at this particular point in his life -- I think it just didn't connect with Chris/the reviewer the way other Social D records had in the past...

Personally, I dig the record from a "pop music" perspective in that it's shiny, the songs are well-written and all that. It just doesn't pack the same "oomph" that the rest of their catalog does. And that's partially because it's a relatively happy record. It's hard to sound "urgent" when you're content. Which is no fault of Ness' -- good on him for writing happy songs finally! Haha.

It doesn't mean the songs aren't well-written, but it does impact the way some listeners are going to connect with the record.



Very well put. I recall him saying something on the live at the roxy album about them not playing any happy songs. I guess thats changed.
10:28 AM on 01/25/11
prefix-core
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Very well put. I recall him saying something on the live at the roxy album about them not playing any happy songs. I guess thats changed.

"You guys wanna hear a happy song? Aw, sorry homie--we don't do no happy songs." Verbatim. Haha.
10:33 AM on 01/25/11
Keele
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If you listen to the tone of Ball and Chain, and tracks like Sometimes I Do which are both around 20 years old they would fit right in.

With new tracks (and a cover) like Alone and Forsaken, Machine Gun Blues, Can't Take It With You, you can't say it's entirely happy an upbeat album. The music overall has upbeat music, but listening to the lyrics you still feel the sense of struggle, just with less frustration. Maybe it's the simile to an aging slugger that just doesn't work for me. Aging slugger survive on past reputation. Overall it seems like people are pleased with this record.
11:42 AM on 01/25/11
McIrish
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Good Review, Chris. I don't know if im in minority but I like the direction their going in. And hope they completely abandon punk for strait up rock and roll on the next record. I don't know about you guys but there's nothing more depressing than 50 year punk rockers.
04:34 PM on 01/25/11
armoireofdoom
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This album was surprisingly enjoyable for me.
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